CITY COUNCIL RUNDOWN: SEPTEMBER 20th 2016

ERIC PRUETT

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City Council agendas are long. And boring. And filled with legalease. I will attempt to summarize the discussions of our city leaders while simultaneously encouraging folks to investigate even further. Or maybe even engage with the neighbors and strangers whom they agree or disagree. Today, the council will focus on two primary items: the 2016-17 budget approval, and the Renewable Denton Plan. Last week’s work session also included discussion on a proposed senior citizen property tax freeze, which has implications on future budget discussions. Read through to prepare yourself for tonight’s city council meeting.


RENEWABLE DENTON PLAN

 

The September 13th council meeting had several ordinances on the agenda which would have approved key expenditures for the early implementation steps on the Denton Energy Center, which is part of the Renewable Denton Plan (also known as the "RDP"). The goal of the plan was to increase our renewable energy from 30% to 70%. The council previously passed a resolution approving the RDP and an ordinance approving $265 million in revenue bonds on June 21st, 2016 after a review of the plan by the Brattle Group was conducted.

Councilwoman Briggs was gravely concerned that the Brattle Group had a potential conflict of interest and requested that the vote be postponed to September 20th. When asked what prompted this and why it had not been brought up earlier, she responded: “I did reach out, March 24 when I saw a conflict of interest circling on the internet about the Wärtsilä engines.” During Councilman Roden’s next opportunity to speak, he responded: “I struggle with spending a week talking about Facebook conspiracy theories, which is what this is.”

Many view Briggs’s actions to delay the RDP and release these documents to the local newspaper as a valiant effort to prevent a gas plant from being built in Denton and expose potentially corrupt practices in the local government. Allegations of impropriety have many residents on social media renewing requests for an ethics ordinance to be passed. One must wonder however: was this particular sequence of events a shrewd political maneuver where history will judge Briggs a brave whistle-blower, or an act which could harm the city’s ability to do business with suppliers in the future who may fear that their confidential information will be leaked?

Tonight, council will speak in a work session about these revelations, and is again scheduled to consider the ordinances to approve expenditures for the engineering design contract, land purchase, and engine purchase.


SENIOR PROPERTY TAX FREEZE

 

On request from some citizens a few weeks ago, council started deliberating the possibility of an ordinance which would freeze senior taxes for the remainder of their life in their home at the dollar amount they pay when they turn 65. Wazny was concerned that “a senior on a fixed income is going to have to sell their house and move because they can’t afford to pay the taxes.” If council does not enact such an ordinance, state law allows residents to petition to place it on a future ballot for a city vote. 

A brief overview of the sentiments of the various council members during this discussion.

A brief overview of the sentiments of the various council members during this discussion.


CITY BUDGET APPROVAL

The process of deciding on and approving a budget in the city of Denton is long, and we are just arriving at the tail end of it.

The Cliff’s notes:

  • Beginning of 2016: council provides direction to staff on priorities

  • March through May: departmental budgets submitted and reviewed with City Manager

  • May through July: public budget suggestions taken through city website

  • June through July: Appraisal values updated to estimate tax receipts for 2016-2017 fiscal year

  • August through September: City Council budget workshops,  work sessions, and public hearings on proposed tax rates

  • September 20: City council adopts the fiscal year 2016-17 budget and new tax rates

Jumping in at the end is never easy, but it’s better to start here than never know what’s going on. Prior to September 13th, the city council had agreed on a minimum of a half cent property tax reduction, and this work session was the final struggle to come to a compromise on additional tax rate reduction. Why all this talk about tax rate reduction? Because home valuations are going up. To keep taxes the same dollar amount as they were the previous year, the effective tax rate would need to be $0.663366 per $100. The rate last year was $0.689750 per $100. At the end of this work session, it appears council has settled on a three quarter cent rate reduction to $0.68225 per $100. Thus the average property owner will see their tax bill increase over last year, but not by as much as if there were no reduction in the tax rate.

So that's what we're got lined up for today's meeting. Remember that you can even watch the meeting from the comfort of your own home here